Recent Protests Don’t Seem to Be Causing Outbreaks

Scientists are cautiously optimistic about preliminary findings

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
4 min readJun 17, 2020

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Protesters gather in front of the Brooklyn Library and Grand Army Plaza on June 5, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York. Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Covid-19 testing among protesters suggest the massive demonstrations against racism and police brutality across the United States are not causing significant new outbreaks of the disease, according to preliminary data from three cities. If the positive trend continues, it’ll be due in part to the fact that many protesters are wearing masks, experts say.

Protesters in Seattle were encouraged to get tested for Covid-19. “Results are in from UW Medicine and out of 3,000 tests fewer than 1% were positive,” the city announced June 12. “To our knowledge and based on volunteered information, there is no evidence so far of people testing positive for COVID-19 from attending protests in Seattle.” In Minneapolis, about 1.4% of 3,300 protestors who were tested last week were found to have Covid-19.

Boston found 1.08% positive cases among 1,288 people tested at sites designed for protestors, the city announced June 16. (City officials can’t say for sure if everyone tested had actually participated in protests). Boston requires all residents over age 2 “to use a face covering or mask in public places where maintaining proper social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are not possible.”

The numbers are encouraging and do not suggest new hotspots of infection, says Roger Shapiro, MD, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “In places where the epidemic is really on the uptick, we are seeing more like 3% or 4% or even higher in the positivity rate.”

“Results are in from UW Medicine and out of 3,000 tests fewer than 1% were positive.”

Cautious optimism amid ongoing concerns

Protests over the killing of George Floyd began May 26. The coronavirus has an average incubation period of about 5 days, meaning if the protests were causing significant outbreaks, they should have started around June 1. However, it can take up to 14 days after exposure before an infected person might test positive.

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB